10 February 2011

Abraham Lincoln The Great . . . Colonizer?

From a piece in the Washington Times yesterday:

"The Great Emancipator was almost the Great Colonizer: Newly released documents show that to a greater degree than historians had previously known, President Lincoln laid the groundwork to ship freed slaves overseas to help prevent racial strife in the U.S. Just after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Lincoln authorized plans to pursue a freedmen’s settlement in present-day Belize and another in Guyana, both colonial possessions of Great Britain at the time, said Phillip W. Magness, one of the researchers who uncovered the new documents."

Historians have debated how seriously Lincoln took colonization efforts, but Mr. Magness said the story he uncovered, to be published next week in a book, “Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement,” shows the president didn’t just flirt with the idea, as historians had previously known, but that he personally pursued it for some time.

“The way that Lincoln historians have grappled with colonization has always been troublesome. It doesn’t mesh with the whole ‘emancipator,’ ” Mr. Magness said. “The revelation of this story changes the picture on that because a lot of historians have tended to downplay colonization. … What we know now is he did continue the effort for at least a year after the proclamation was signed.” (Emphasis mine.)

You can read the complete article here. So maybe we can expect a call for an interpretive plaque here? Some historians have suggested "interpretive plaques" at Confederate memorials and statues, so if they wish to be consistent, they should now call for one at Lincoln Park. 

Lincoln scholar and biographer, Brian Dirck (Whom I've met and once shared a book signing event with in Gettysburg) said this about Professor Magness's new book:

"A first-rate, well-researched book. The authors have a very firm command of the literature and the complex primary sources surrounding this topic, and I was impressed with their ability to trace the sometimes labyrinthine course of colonization policy"

The book, published by University of Missouri, is set to be released on Valentine's Day - a cruel irony for those who have fallen in love with the Lincoln myth.

(We had another recent post which featured Professor Magness here.)


Clint said...

We do know that Lincoln said that he would preserve the union by whatever means it took, whether slavery were preserved or not.

As you know, there were many ideas on how the states might get around the slavery issue. One was that the government might pay for the freedom of each slave. That didn't fly for a number of reasons.

I think Lincoln was a pragmatist, pure and simple. It has become fashionable to portray him as a man on a mission from God to eliminate slavery, but in reality, he did what circumstances required of him to preserve the union.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

". . . he did what circumstances required of him to preserve the union."

I would agree, though I would add AND to centralize more power at the federal level.

Every western nation ended slavery w/out war except the U.S. I've yet to hear a convincing argument that we, over time, could not have done the same and avoided the massive loss of life.

Clint said...

But it did define who we are as a nation. The real fault lay with the founding fathers, who could no compromise on this huge issue.

Now, if Lee had turned the federal flank at Gettysburg....

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Yes, it did. However, it is my belief that slavery could have been ended without costing 600,000 lives.

Chaps said...

If Stonewall had been at Gettysburg, we'd need a passport to go to Pennsylvania.

James H said...

I have no doubt that Lincoln had a pragmatic side. I also suspect he was looking at several solutions. There is no indication here that Lincoln of course was Looking at a forceful deportation of former slaves.He very well might have thought many would like to go. I am never sure why the Colony idea is used against him

Lincoln no doubt thought slavery was a evil. He no doubt wanted to avoid a war and would tolerate the evils of slavery if he thought it would die out. That was why stopping the expansion of slavery was essential.

The Civil war basically started when the Southern Dems forced the Democrat Convention to break up because DOuglas and the North failed to go along for their demand for what was basically a Federal Slave Code. Which by the way would have been a massive expansion of Federal Power.

Would Slavery have died out? Well I suppose "eventually". But how long. It was pretty evident that many in the South envisioned a slave empire. Slaves were already showing signs of working quite well in the jobs related to the coming Industrial revolution.

Maybe it would have dies out in 30 years , 4o, or 50. Or perhaps even the emerging power of the USA at that would have forced it to stay on the scene for longer than we care to imagine.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello James.

"I am never sure why the Colony idea is used against him."

I'm not sure what you mean by the truth being used "against him." To be against, someone has to be "for."

Lincoln, like all 19th century Americans, was simply a product of his time. His views on race were not much different than political leaders in the South.

"There is no indication here that Lincoln of course was Looking at a forceful deportation of former slaves."

This book has yet to be released, so we'll have to wait and see if any of this new research reveals more about that.

The notion that slavery would have survived to the end of the 19th century is, in my opinion, absurd - for a whole host of reasons.

Thanks for the comment James - do feel free to chime in any time.

The Abraham Lincoln Observer said...

"Over time," of course is the bugaboo. How many years of continued black slavery would have been a fair trade for the Civil War? And who had the right to make that trade?

Your comments, Mr. Williams, suggest you believe the white residents of the South should have had the ability to decide when to abolish slavery. Unfortunately, they obviously had no such intention in the 1860s -- and, in fact, started the Civil War (yes, they did) in order to preserve and expand "the peculiar institution." Maybe slavery would have ended by 1900, and maybe it wouldn't have. But why should white slaveholders have been the only people allowed to make that call?

It seems to me that the thousands of black soldiers who enlisted in the Union Army -- many of whom had recently been slaves themselves -- cast more persuasive votes about the timing of abolition. Their answer was clear: No more slavery, no more years. They were right.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

The problem with your opinion is that it defies logic and is inconsistent. The USCT, did not cast any "votes" as your comment suggests. While I'm sure they were opposed to slavery (obviously), their permission to fight came after the war started. It would be more accurate to state that white Northerners made the call - after they had reaped massive profits from the slave trade and it was no longer as useful to them.

Now, I've answered your question, please do me the same favor and answer mine:

No one would lament the end of slavery, but would a gradual emancipation with compensation to slaveholders over several years been more desirable than 600,000 plus deaths and the less than ideal years of reconstruction and the bitterness that followed?

Could the same logic you use be justified to end the horror of abortion? Would war and violence be justified or is it better to respect the rule of law and work through persuasion and the legislative process?

I look forward to your answers.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I'm still waiting . . . ???